Sunday, September 23, 2007

Divide and rule

The weekly prize for 'worst article in the Observer' is going to have to be renamed 'worst article in the Observer not written by Henry Porter' [this week's Henry Porter article - people have become psychologically dependant on Labour and so won't listen to the really clever ideas that David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Zac Goldsmith have come up with].

With the disqualification of Henry Porter, this week's worst article prize is won by Jasper Gerrard. He writes what he seems to think is a courageous and liberal defence of immigration, against the likes of MigrationWatch. So far, so reasonable. Until he gets to:

"But in this 'honest debate' [about immigration], shouldn't we ask why we need imported labour?

Surely it's because we have several million derelict natives who can't or won't work. Immigrants are a symptom of a problem - the problem of our underclass. Oh, and global forces producing massive population shifts beyond the powers of government."

So rather than blame immigrants, Gerrard would have us blame what he calls 'the underclass'. In fact, this kind of argument is very close to that of MigrationWatch, the only argument that they have being about which group of poor people to blame.

Immigration has been used by employers as a way of holding down wages during a period of general prosperity. That isn't the fault of people who have come to Britain from Eastern Europe and work very long hours while living in shared rooms in substandard accommodation. Nor is it the fault of someone who gets sacked from their low paid job for taking a day off to look after their sick child and then can't find a job which is compatible with the childcare which is offered to them. (Incidentally, someone in this situation is, according to Gerrard, 'derelict').

If we're going to have an open and honest debate about immigration, then the fact that people at the top of companies have made very substantial amounts of money from holding down wages and using (and, often, mis-using) the talents of people from all over the world needs to be acknowledged.

It doesn't have to be like this - one big city firm found that by giving low paid workers a pay rise of £2/hour everyone benefited, with lower rates of absenteeism, staff turnover and higher productivity. It is a criminal waste that the debate is instead dominated by the divide and rule battle about whether immigrants or natives are to blame, while the divine right of employers to pay as little as possible goes unchallenged.

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